Monday, May 11th, 2020
Kathleen I EP
May 11, 2020
By Caleb Campbell
Kathleen is one of Warner Records newest signees. Raised in Steamboat Springs, Colorado but now based in Los Angeles, she draws from her poetry and environmentalist background in her conscious spin on the singer/songwriter formula. On her debut EP, Kathleen I, listeners can hear traces of Joni Mitchell’s down-to-earth folk, Fiona Apple’s idiosyncratic art pop, and touches of contemporary pop production, an engaging combination that showcases the depth of Kathleen’s vocals and her songwriting potential.
“The Longest Year” is a dramatic opener that looks to verbalize the chaos of our current moment. The bassline gives the song an urgent sense of movement, which couples beautifully with swirling synths before ascending to a climactic instrumental high. Although the song was written years ago it feels more and more relevant today. With lyrics that reference climate collapse, MAGA, and even name drops Bob Dylan, it articulates a sense of weariness and chaos that many listeners will undoubtedly relate to.
One of the strengths of the EP is how it captures a natural element. Her childhood among the Rocky Mountains, along with her park ranger turned physician assistant mother, fostered a connection to nature that runs throughout the EP. “Asking the Aspens” interweaves natural imagery into the lyrics along with a soaring vocal performance. The song stays grounded with acoustic guitar and piano, making Kathleen’s striking vocals stand out all the more. The natural element goes even deeper with Kathleen’s personal environmentalist convictions. She even asked the label to keep the environmental impacts of promotion and release efforts as low as possible, including zero waste video productions.
Kathleen bolsters the natural core to her music with a pop sheen. She shows a strong ear for melody that is enhanced by the production, largely courtesy of Ariel Rechtshaid. Considering Rechthaid’s pedigree, including work with Beyonce, Adele, and Charli XCX, it is unsurprising that there are maximalist pop touches here. The energetic “Seven Miles” features a thumping chorus of synths, percussion, and processed vocals in the second half. The closer, “Half My Mind Ago,” also incorporates some vocal manipulations that recall some of Bon Iver’s recent work. The atmospheric sound on this track creates a colder and more introspective mood, which contrasts well with the other songs here. The EP is grounded by Kathleen’s excellent vocal performances. She never feels outshined by the instrumentals, but rather ebbs and flows with them beautifully.
In today’s cluttered music landscape, new artists are faced with the daunting task of defining their own sound and style in a way that sets them apart from others. Her Warner debut takes strides towards defining a lane for Kathleen through her poetic and politically conscious songwriting. It is an excellent introduction to her work, as well as a statement of her identity as an artist. We look forward to seeing her expand on her ideas in a full-length release. (www.soundslikekathleen.com)
Author rating: 7.5/10
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